Christian Everett had the sense his coach was going to call his number.
The Young all-purpose star plays all over the field for coach Tim Franken. With the Dolphins’ top quarterback David Craan out with an injury, Young has been forced to rely on its running backs, defense and special teams to make up for the team’s lost vertical passing threat.
Playing quarterback for the first time in a varsity game, Everett provided sharp second-half execution as Young broke the game open after halftime to earn a 21-6 victory over Taft on Thursday at Lane.
Young completed an undefeated regular-season campaign (9-0, 7-0 Big Shoulders) after the perennial Illini program dropped down to the Chicago Conference. “We kind of redeemed ourselves,” nose tackle Bryce Murray said.
Murray scored his second touchdown in as many games with a 15-yard fumble recovery in the fourth quarter that put the game away. The Dolphins’ improved second-half rushing attack set the table. “The second half was great,” Murray said. “We had our backs to the wall, and we just went out and executed and ran our offense.”
After Everett learned he would direct the offense in the second half, he was ready. “I always feel ready,” he said. “Our offensive line blocked well and we pushed the ball down the field.”
Young’s opening possession of the second half ended with a fumble that Taft recovered at its own five-yard line. Young’s defense forced a punt and the Dolphins took over at the Taft 18-yard line.
Young nearly turned it over again, but offensive tackle Gregory Franklin alertly pounced on Everett’s fumble on fourth down that he recovered for first and goal at the five-yard line. Two plays later, running back Kendred Belk scored on a one-yard plunge.
Travis Hank set up the Dolphins’ second touchdown. He recovered a Taft fumble at midfield and caught a 22-yard pass from Everett. Miles Baggett (18 carries, 94 yards) followed witha 13-yard run, andBelk capped the drive on a two-yard run for his second score of the game. Belk also had a key interception in the second half.
“We just had to wake up in that second half,” Belk said. “Taft was a good team, the second biggest team we’ve played this year after Schurz and they gave us a good game.”
Murray put the game out of reach when he scooped up the Taft fumble and scored with just under seven minutes remaining. “Last week the touchdown I had was a strip and recovery in the end zone, and this time I got to show my speed a little bit,” he said.
Baggett is the brother of former Dolphins’ star Terry Baggett, who recently set the Army single-game rushing record with 304 yards against Eastern Michigan. He has the same punishing style. He had 12 carries for 64 yards in the second half as Young dominated possession time. “I love football, and I don’t think any one person can bring me down,” he said. “It’s going to take more than one.”
The other big story was Young’s defense, which recorded three turnovers and allowed just its second touchdown of the year.
“Our defense has carried us the whole year,” Everett said. “We’ve only given up 18 points, and one of those touchdowns came on a kickoff return.”
Taft senior wide receiver Demarcus Heglar helped the Eagles (7-2, 5-2) avert the shutout when he scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass from back-up quarterback Roberto Juarez on the final play from scrimmage.
The Eagles had two first half possessions end on downs, including a drive that started at the Young 27-yard line after a recovered Dolphins’ fumble on a punt. Taft has struggled offensively since star running back James Liss suffered a leg injury in the fifth game of the season. “We had some opportunities in the first half that we didn’t capitalize on,” Taft coach Matthew Walsh.
“We dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter. If we’re up there 7-0 against Young, who hasn’t been down the whole year, maybe the second half momentum is different.”